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Donors tackle health inequality through research
Photo of Marty Levin and Wanda Rushing

The Levin/Rushing Population and Health Inequalities Research Collaborative Endowment, established by Marty Levin and Wanda Rushing, will support Laney Graduate School faculty members and doctoral students who are researching the integration of demographics and health inequality.

— Photo by @RushingSouth

For Marty Levin and Wanda Rushing, philanthropy is a process, not a single act. The retired sociologists have funded a scholarship in Emory’s Department of Sociology since 2017. The funding allows graduate students and nontenured faculty to attend the summer Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research at University of Michigan, where they learn a range of research methods. Rushing also supports research opportunities for graduate students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where she earned her PhD.

Now the couple has made graduate research support at Emory part of their estate plan. The Levin/Rushing Population and Health Inequalities Research Collaborative Endowment will, when realized, establish permanent funds for both faculty members and doctoral students in the James T. Laney School of Graduate Studies to pursue research in these areas. The Levin/Rushing bequest is the largest gift or pledge received by the Laney Graduate School to date.

“Inequality is a major interest of Wanda’s, while I’ve done research in demography and public health,” Levin says. “This gift will allow researchers to examine the integration of demographics and health inequality from both perspectives — how does the organization of a population affect health inequality and how does health inequality affect populations?”

According to Timothy Dowd, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology, “Demography is both a research area and a technique to conduct research. We want to understand how access to health care can reduce inequality, so this gift will allow us to build and support research with real-world implications.”

Karen Hegtvedt, professor and former chair of sociology, worked with Levin at Emory. “I’ve heard Marty refer to philanthropy as his spiritual legacy,” she says. “I think, based on the success of the summer research project scholarship he funded, he has faith in the department to carry out his and Wanda’s wishes.”

Levin and Rushing are intentional with their philanthropy.

“I took a course on communicating values to those who come after you, and it really resonated with me” Rushing says. “Marty and I talked about it, and we decided that helping graduate students conduct research was important to us. We are also pleased to support further research on the interconnections between population and health inequality.”

Levin said the couple chose Emory because “I did the bulk of my career here, from instructor to full professor, and I’ve always felt like Emory was my home.”

He went on to teach at Mississippi State University. He and Rushing also taught at the University of Memphis, and both hold emeritus positions from that university’s Department of Sociology.

Graduate research support is vital for students’ current and future success, Dowd says. “We regularly apply for grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and others. We’re pleased and honored when we receive them, but there’s something special about having funds targeted to our department to fund this valuable research.”

Although the Levin/Rushing gift benefits graduate students specifically, “it will also benefit undergraduate sociology students, since the type of advances made in supported research will end up in our curricula and will be taught in the classroom,” Hegtvedt said.

Ensuring that graduate students have meaningful educational experiences is a priority for Kimberly Jacob Arriola, dean of Laney Graduate School and vice provost for graduate affairs.

“Access to research opportunities at the graduate level helps students learn, develop new skills, and build valuable professional networks,” Arriola says. “We are so grateful for this gift that will help us continue to expand the student-centered educational experiences we offer in our graduate programs.”

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